"Stillness isn't just a game; it's a message about our real world and the people in it."
The Stillness of the Wind might be the first game I've ever played that isn't supposed to be fun. And yes, it's definitely not "fun." However, one doesn't go to museums for "fun," but enrichment. Stillness is a similar experience. Although it definitely contains gameplay and design choices based around farming, these serve more as a vehicle for communicating themes and immersing the player. Did I enjoy Stillness? Well, that's hard to say, but I certainly got something out of it.
Meet Talma: a mother, grandmother, farmer, and most importantly, person. She lives on her family's farm in a seemingly barren wasteland. With nothing for miles, her only companionship lies with goats, chickens, a traveling merchant, letters, and the occasional wolf. Her days follow a particular routine defined by the player, which largely involves watering plants, planting seeds, milking the goats, making cheese, cooking meals for herself, reading letters, and that's about it. It's a lifestyle one might find in other farming games, except in Stillness the monotony began to wear on me, as I imagine it will for most players. This is likely the intent.
You see, Talma is by herself, and not just physically. Both in spirit and in terms of family, she has little to attach herself to besides her family's farm. As her family writes her with upsetting news from the city, one has to wonder why they don't just come back to the farm or at least visit Talma. This is an asset of the game — no answers offered, no insights spoon-fed. We receive concrete information on what everyone is doing through their own words, all while Talma takes the long walk to the well, waits for the milk to heat up, and perhaps anxiously awaits the traveling merchant.
Just as the city affects her family in a variety of ways, so too does it affect Talma and her farm — her way of life. While her family volunteered for a different lifestyle, Talma is forced into this one. Although Talma never says a word, I felt like I had an idea of what she might be feeling with each letter. Certainly, I'm inserting a bit of myself in there, but I imagine most players will come away with some sort of similar sense of isolation and abandonment.
The game design is so incredibly unique in terms of its purpose. As stated earlier, Stillness isn't fun, but rather slow and clunky. Planting seeds, gathering water, cooking cheese — these are all incredibly taxing, mind-numbing tasks. I found myself frequently thinking, "How am I supposed to do all of this by myself in one day? Sure would be nice to have some help." This is likely the point.
Purposeful or not, Stillness is a bit of a chore to play, and one has to remember that the message and themes are why we're here. Most of the gameplay involves simple mouse clicks. No dialogue choices exist. The only challenge lies in trying to fit everything into one day. This comes with a sense of anxiety. How am I supposed to keep the goats fed if I can't make more cheese or get more eggs to barter with the merchant? If I don't feed my goats, I have less cheese, and then I can forget buying books or amenities to keep me sane. Again, this is the point.
Unfortunately, what likely isn't the point are the poor controls. I found myself wrestling with fences that clipped me as I tried to walk by, and sometimes I accidentally uprooted budding vegetables instead of plowing a new field. One might argue that this is also intentional due to Talma's age, but that's hard for me to buy. Once I realized that progression and survival were largely out of my hands (another intended message, I'm sure), I stopped caring about mistakes made with the controls.
The sounds and music in Stillness emphasize the sense of isolation. Nothing grandiose or orchestrated greets the player, but what's provided complements the mood. Graphically, Stillness is pretty minimalistic; I'm not a fan of the art style, but everything looks like it should, even if unattractively so.
The Stillness of the Wind left me with a tear or two as I thought about all the Talmas in our world. Her life has passed her by, and her kids believe an occasional letter is sufficient. Quiet sadness and resentment bounded in my chest with each heartbeat. How could this happen? Stillness isn't just a game; it's a message about our real world and the people in it. Cultures are disappearing the world over. Stillness has so many incredible themes packed into a three-hour sleepy adventure: the impact of technology, industrialization, aging, filial piety, the need for human companionship, cultural preservation, and so much more. If you're looking for a fun time, a happy time, or a smooth ride, this isn't your game. If you're looking for something to chew on and to learn about a person or people you might not be able to truly see in our real world, then Stillness is here. I wish more games tried to communicate these kinds of messages.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.